Research reveals how horses react to EVs on the road

by Petrol Mum

EV advocate Elinor Chalmers has been the driving force behind a recent Robert Gordon’s University study into the effect of electric cars on equines ridden on public roads. As a result, Elinor has been awarded one of The British Horse Society’s (BHS) annual Sefton Awards for individuals who have made significant contributions to equestrian safety.

“I have been around horses since I was a teenager and have now been a horse owner for over 25 years. I can often be found out competing with my 9-year-old mare April or out on a hack with my veteran horse Major,” Elinor told Driven Women Magazine.

Elinor’s other mode of transport for the past six years has been an electric vehicle with Elinor making the switch to electric, taking ownership of a 24kwh Nissan Leaf when she traded in her diesel Qashqai to help reduce her carbon footprint.

“My electric adventures gained a small following on Twitter (@Shes_sElectric) as I experienced running an EV without a home charger in the city of Dundee and surrounding areas. The fantastic charging infrastructure installed by Dundee City Council made it possible. The World Electric Vehicle Association named Dundee as the most visionary city in Europe for electric vehicles in 2018 and gave them an E-visionary award for its pioneering initiatives to encourage the use of EVs,” said Elinor.

As an EV driver, Electric Vehicle Association of Scotland member and horse owner active on social media, Elinor picked up on some threads being aired by horse riders highlighting bad experiences of them meeting electric vehicles while riding on the roads; the vehicles had startled their horses with their lack of engine noise. So, Elinor was keen to find out if this could be a potential issue, with the number of battery electric vehicles increasing on our roads at an exponential rate.

“I am a long-term member of The British Horse Society (BHS) and was aware of their ‘Dead Slow’ road safety campaign. I contacted BHS Scotland who put me in touch with the designated BHS Safety Team to look into this query,” explained Elinor.

The BHS then liaised with Robert Gordon University who designed a study to determine how horses respond to electric vehicles and whether they are able to sense (hear) the approach of the EV before its rider.

“My main role was to organises the vehicles for the study which included my own Leaf, a larger Jaguar I-PACE, an ENV200 van and an average internal combustion engine car. Each vehicle drove past the three horses included in the study, at 10, 20 and 30 mph, while the research team from Robert Gordon University used their instruments and recordings to capture the horses’ reactions,” continued Elinor.

The results of the study were fascinating and demonstrated that the low-level noises produced by EV’s can in fact be detected by a horse and they can be aware of the vehicle before a rider. Research such as this is essential and invaluable both from an EV driver’s and a horse rider/owner’s perspective.

Having a better understanding of horse behaviour in the presence of an electric vehicle is a step forward for the shared road safety of all road users: drivers, riders, and horses alike. Not only will it help to alleviate concerns from riders about how their horse reacts to electric vehicles due to limited sound levels, but it reiterates how important it is for all drivers, regardless of whether they are driving an electronic or conventional vehicle, to be careful when passing horses on the road.

“I would like to thank the BHS for taking this project forward and for recognising my efforts by awarding me with a Sefton Award. Along with four other individuals who have recently made significant contributions to equestrian safety, this achievement was celebrated at a ceremony at the Household Cavalry in London in November this year,” concluded Elinor.

As a charity whose core objectives include keeping horses and riders safe, The British Horse Society encourages all drivers to adhere to their ‘Dead Slow’ advice. In line with the recent Highway Code Changes, this includes slowing down to 10mph and leaving at least a cars width when passing a horse and rider on the roads. Since 2018 the BHS worked hard, lobbying and collaborating with Cycling UK, DVSA, Living Streets and the Department for Transport (DfT), to suggest the much-needed Highway Code improvements and to represent equestrians in the review.

Riders also have a responsibility to concentrate at all times and be aware of their surroundings. This is particularly important when it comes to electric vehicles, where the noise levels have been found to be harder to hear by humans than by horses.

As the number of electric vehicles on the UK’s roads soars, all road users are encouraged to take note of the report’s findings and strive towards creating harmony on our roads. It’s important for EV drivers to adhere to the BHS’s ‘Dead Slow’ Advice. The Society has four key behavioural changes messages:

•             Slow down to a maximum of 10mph

•             Be patient, don’t sound the horn or rev the engine (if you have one!)

•             When safe to so, pass the horse wide and slow – at least two metres

•             Drive slowly away

For more information on the campaign go to:

Photographs supplied.

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